Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is very much a long shot to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 — but he has the potential to scramble the contest, according to sources across the party’s ideological spectrum.
Theories about Christie’s likely impact have become more salient after it emerged Wednesday that he is likely to enter the race next week.
Axios was first to report that Christie will launch his campaign Tuesday at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.
There are enormous questions around a Christie bid — particularly, whether he can hurt former President Trump, to whom he is now fiercely opposed; and what effect his candidacy might have on Trump’s most serious rival for the nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If Christie is entering the race with the intention of winning, he has a big mountain to climb.
His political star shined brighter during his previous quest for the White House, in the 2016 cycle — and he still went nowhere. Christie exited the race after the New Hampshire primary, where he placed sixth with less than 8 percent of the vote.
The GOP primary electorate was not in the market for a moderate Northeastern Republican on that occasion. There is no compelling evidence to believe things are different now.
Skeptics contend that a 2024 Christie campaign is more about maintaining relevancy — and perhaps parlaying that relevancy into other work — than anything else.
Meanwhile, Christie’s relationship with Trump has gone through more twists and turns than a soap opera.
Having first run against Trump in 2016, Christie swiftly endorsed his rival.
Trump’s then-chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that Christie wavered after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged, on which the then-candidate was heard boasting about grabbing women by the genitals. In Bannon’s telling, this cost Christie any chance of getting a cabinet role in the Trump administration.
Christie was at one stage the head of Trump’s transition planning team, though he was deposed from that position soon after the 2016 election.
By the time of the 2020 election campaign, Christie was back in the good graces of Trump’s circle to the extent that he helped the then-president prepare for his debates against President Biden. But Christie broke yet again with Trump when the latter refused to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 election.
More recently, Christie has been more vehement than virtually any other significant GOP figure in his criticisms of Trump.
He has referred to Trump’s 2024 bid as a “vanity exercise,” called him “Putin’s puppet” over his view of the war in Ukraine and contended that he is “afraid” to debate other serious candidates.
The reaction from Trump and his allies has been predictably dismissive.
A Trump spokesman responded to a New York Times inquiry about the “afraid” to debate comment by saying “Who?” — and adding that Christie was “trying to play pretend candidate.”
After news broke Wednesday that Christie was planning to enter the race, a GOP operative supportive of Trump told this column, “Trump should welcome Christie into the race, and not just because the more candidates in the primary the better for him…He will act as a constant reminder to our base that the very people they hate also hate Trump.”
The pro-Trump operative also contended that Christie’s candidacy would “signal to GOP base voters that Trump is a threat to the establishment.”
Virtually all the other alternatives to Trump in the presidential race — declared or potential candidates alike — have positioned themselves more as “non-Trump” rather than “anti-Trump.”
That’s true of DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence — who is also expected to enter the race next week — and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). None has taken on Trump so frontally, as Christie seems likely to do.
Christie does have talents, however. No Republican gets elected twice as governor of a blue state like New Jersey without political skills. And the former governor can be a formidable debater. In 2016, he famously embarrassed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) so badly in one clash that it was perceived to have ruined Rubio’s chances in the race.
Still, Christie was not the beneficiary himself in 2016 — and some wonder whether that pattern could repeat itself in 2024, with attacks by Christie on Trump perhaps helping DeSantis.
“Generally, in multi-candidate fields, if you seek to take down another candidate, a third candidate benefits,” said Matt Mackowiak, the chair of the Travis County, Texas, Republican Party.
“I think that is the most likely…You could argue that if Christie is effective at attacking Trump, it would be helpful to DeSantis,” Mackowiak added.
Others, particularly in the rank of Trump critics, were more sanguine about Christie’s chances.
Rick Tyler, who was communications director for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the 2016 campaign, said, “I know the conventional wisdom is that Christie can’t win but I don’t know anymore — and I don’t think anybody does. Christie can stick it to Trump and land punches.”
Tyler, a strong Trump critic, added that Christie “won in a Democratic state — and why wouldn’t we want someone who can win over Democrats?”
For the moment, however, Christie’s bigger problem is how to win over Republicans.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.